Posts Tagged ‘Mughals’

I recently read, back to back, two works of fiction that are based on one historical figure’s life. I didn’t expect them to be overly similar, but I wasn’t prepared for them to be so different either.

What made them so dissimilar was the point of view of each of the authors. And by that I don’t mean the first person or the limited/omniscient third person view they used to narrate the tale, but the perspective and understanding of the authors about the life and times of the subject matter.

The books are Shadow Princess by Indu Sundaresan and Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Both the books examine the life of Mughal princess Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal (yes, the Mumtaz Mahal of the Taj Mahal fame). The stories are set in an India of the 1600s that is thrown into turmoil by the constant bickering of the various invading forces like the Mughals, the British, the Portuguese and other opportunists.

Shadow Princess is the last of a set of three books called the Taj Mahal trilogy. Sundaresan sets the stage beautifully for Jahanara and narrates her story (in alluring poetic prose that enhances the ambiance) with the right mix of awe and slight disdain that Mughal lives tend to evoke in most Indians’ hearts. Sundaresan’s Jahanara is bold and decisive, but tempered by subtlety and decorum. When suddenly burdened with the responsibility of a mourning father and confused siblings upon her mother’s death, teenager Jahanara steps into the role with aplomb. Over time, she learns to protect her own interests with the requisite cunning that is inevitable in her position.

Shors’s Jahanara, on the other hand, is outspoken and in-the-face courageous. So much so that she rides astride a horse in broad daylight, walks around the city unveiled and openly disobeys her husband. In short, she could pass for a twenty-first century (almost American) teenager, if you didn’t know any better.

Having grown up in India and read its history, I know that Mughal women were rarely allowed outside their palaces and certainly never without purdah. If it were a princess, then her life was even more circumscribed owing to the intrigues surrounding her as the candidate for a powerful political alliance.

I feel Sundaresan, being an Indian and a woman, handles the subject with better insight into the traditions and restrictions Jahanara possibly faced during her lifetime and how those same constraints shaped her into the strong and influential figure she grew into.

Shors deals with the situation head-on and makes a formidable heroine of Jahanara. I didn’t dislike the book. In fact, after I managed to swallow my irritation (even if it took me several trials and dozens of pages into the book to get there) at how modern Jahanara and the other characters and their interactions with each other sound, the book grew on me. I loved the gumption and resourcefulness of Shor’s Jahanara.

This exercise brought home to me forcefully once more that a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, is colored by the past and present life experiences of the author among many other things. When we open a book, we’re stepping for the duration of the story into the author’s private chamber upon their invitation. And what each of us takes out of that visit, again, depends upon our own point of view as a reader.

Have you read two or more books by different authors but based on the same personality or incident? Please share with us your experiences from the activity!

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First glimpse of the Fort from the entrance

The Golconda Fort – rather its majestic and awe-inspiring ruins – sits on top of a granite hill, at the heart of the old city of Hyderabad. Its origin dates back to the late 1300s. The area where the fort and the city of Hyderabad now exist (it comes under a larger area known as the Deccan) used to be under the rule of Hindu kings originally.

A view of the highest point (King's Assembly Hall) of the fort from below

During the reign of Raja Pratap I of the Kakatiya dynasty, it is said, a shepherd had suggested that the king build a fort on top of the hill where the structure squats now. The king acknowledged the wisdom behind the advice and built a mud fort on top of the hill. He then magnanimously named it after the initiator of the idea, the shepherd. (Golconda, a Telugu word, is the combination of two words: Golla = shepherd, konda = hill.)

Nagina Bagh: The garden of the serpent. This was where the king and his queens relaxed in the evenings. It is only one of the many gardens that exist within the fort. They all still maintain the basic structure, but the beautiful flowering plants and fruit tress, lovely sculptures, and fountains spraying sceneted water are all, of course, gone.

By the 1500s, times had changed and parts of India had come under the rule of Turks and Persians, and Islamic rulers from elsewhere. In 1512 A.D, the Deccan fell into the hands of Quli Qutub Shah, the first king of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, who made Golconda his capital (there was no city of Hyderabad by then). Thus began the exposure of the area to foreign architecture, traditions, and culture, all of which would eventually make it one of the stronger hubs of Muslim culture in India.

The Golconda fort is also known as the house of Kohinoor. Kohinoor, once the largest diamond in the world, was originally mined from this area. It was also one among the many national treasures of India that were looted and borne away to foreign lands by invaders. The diamond has changed hands over the centuries and now is one of the British Crown Jewels.

The main entrance (one of eight original entrances, but the only one functioning now) to the fort

The fort stayed impregnable for a long time, until the advent of guns and canons. Even then it withstood one of the strongest militaries of the time, the Mughal army (led by Aurangazeb, during the long-enduring Mughal campaign to establish control over South India), for months on end. It was during this siege that Golconda finally succumbed and fell into the hands of Aurangazeb.

Entrance to the queens' quarters

View of the Old City from the highest point in the fort

View of the ruins from a high vantage point within the fort

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